Zimbabwean court frees prominent journalist, opposition politician

Zimbabwean journalist and documentary filmmaker Hopewell Chin'ono. He was granted bail on September 2, 2020. 

Photo credit: Jekesai Njikizana | Afp

What you need to know:

  • Jacob Ngarivhume, who leads a small opposition party, Transform Zimbabwe, called for the protests on July 31 and was charged with inciting violence.
  • Journalist Hopewell Chin’ono, who has been critical of President Mnangagwa’s government, also faced the same charge after writing in support of the demonstrations.

Zimbabwe's High Court on Wednesday granted bail  to a prominent investigative journalist and an opposition leader, over a month  after they were arrested for allegedly inciting violence.

Freelance journalist Hopewell Chin’ono and Jacob Ngarivhume, a leader of a fringe  opposition party, were  arrested ahead of protests against corruption that had been pencilled in for July 31.

The protests were thwarted by security forces after the government claimed they were meant  to topple President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

A Harare  magistrate denied the duo  bail last month saying the duo had not yet accomplished their mission to topple  the government.

High Court judge Tawanda Chitapi, who presided over Mr  Chin’ono's bail hearing, however ruled that the magistrate misdirected himself  in denying the journalist bail on his second attempt.

"No continuity of demonstrations was advocated for," Justice Chitapi ruled in the keenly awaited judgement.

"Nothing was put in place to show that July 31 was for commencement of a process, so magisrate misdirected in failing to find that passing of July  31 was a changed circumstance."

Mr Ngarivhume was granted $600 bail while  Mr Chin’ono was ordered  to pay $120 for his freedom.

Part of their bail conditions included that they surrender their passports and stop sharing messages on social media.

Mr Chin’ono's lawyers early  this week said he had fallen seriously ill in prison with symptoms to those of Covid-19.

The duo's incarceration was met with global condemnation of President Mnangagwa’s government, which is accused of using the cover of Covid-19 to crush dissent.

A senior leader of the mainstream opposition MDC Alliance, Job Sikhala, who is also facing charges related to the July 31 protests remains in custody.

Several activists were arrested  for taking part in the protests while others  are still in hiding.

Critics say Mr Chin’ono is being  targeted for exposing corruption in the government's procurement of medical supplies to fight Covid-19.

Another investigative journalist Mduduzi Mathuthu, who broke a story about a $60 million dollar Covid-19 drugs procurement scandal that implicated President Mnangagwa's family, is in hiding after police  raided his home on the eve of the protests.

Police said they were investigating him for his alleged role in organising the July 31 protests.